Christian Social Union (UK)

This article is about the British organisation. For other uses, see Christian Social Union.

The Christian Social Union (CSU) was a social gospel membership organisation associated with the Church of England. The group was established in 1889 and dedicated itself to the study of contemporary social conditions and the remedying of poverty and other forms of social injustice through public mobilisation to alleviate the same. The organisation was terminated through merger in 1919, becoming part of the Industrial Christian Fellowship (ICF).

Organisational history


The Archbishop of Canterbury Edward Benson helped set the stage for the Christian Social Union. In his Christ and His Times (1886), Benson had written that "there is much in 'socialism,' as we now understand it, which honestly searches for some beneficial remedy—much of which is purely religious and Christian." Furthermore, Benson said that all clergy should have "some knowledge" of socialism and that they should "prepare and suggest and promote the wisest social measures."[1] In the spirit of the Archbishop’s admonitions, in 1889, Henry Scott Holland, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford called together a group that evolved into the Christian Social Union.[2]

From this meeting, the Christian Social Union (CSU) was established at Oxford, England, on November 16, 1889.[3] In twelve months, it had 77 members.[4] A London branch of the organisation was established the next year.[3] It had 124 members in 1891.[4]

The rules of the Union were that it would consist of "members of the Church of England" who agreed

  1. To claim for the Christian law the ultimate authority to rule social practice.
  2. To study in common how to apply the moral truths and principles of Christianity to the social and economic problems of the present time.
  3. To present Christ in practical life as the Living Master and King, the enemy of wrong and selfishness, the power of righteousness and love.[5]

The group's origins lay in the writings of Frederick Denison Maurice, onetime professor of theology at London University, Charles Kingsley and John Malcolm Forbes Ludlow.

The CSU avoided "hard and fast lines". This allowed differing parties to work together in different ways in the same organization.[6] The Oxford and London branches of the CSU had very different orientations. The Oxford branch was concerned mostly with the accumulation and analysis of economic facts, with a view to helping to understand the nature and magnitude of contemporary social problems and developing potential solutions for these issues.[3] The London branch, on the other hand, was more oriented towards mobilisation efforts, organising public meetings and providing series of sermons and public lectures to Church of England congregations as well as a broader public.[3]

The CSU was a manifestation of the international social gospel movement, a point emphasized in one of the organisation's early pamphlets, which declared:

We start from the conviction...that the time is come to vote urgency for the social question. We believe that political problems are rapidly giving place to the industrial problem, which is proving itself more and more to be the question of the hour...

We are of those who are convinced that the ultimate solution of this social question is bound to be discovered in the person and life of Christ.[7]


From its origins in Oxford and London, the CSU spread throughout the United Kingdom, with about 60 branches established by the middle of the first decade of the 20th Century.[3] The organisation claimed a membership of about 5,000 at this time.[3] Particularly active branches were established in Cambridge, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and Leicester.[3]

Two publications were associated with the group, The Economic Review, published at Oxford, and The Commonwealth, published in London.[3]

The CSU became attached to the Oxford Movement through the work of slum priests.

Its leaders included Henry Scott Holland, dean of St. Pauls and, briefly William Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 to 1944.

Termination and legacy

The CSU’s last annual report showed thirty-five branches and with a total membership "well over 4,000."[4]

The Christian Socialist Union merged in 1919 with the Navvy MissionSociety[8] to form the Industrial Christian Fellowship. ICF continues to develop issues of social justice, business ethics etc.[9]

The British CSU was the inspiration for a similar organisation in the United States of America, also known as the Christian Social Union, as well as affiliated organisations in New Zealand and Australia.[3]


  1. Benson 1889, pp. 58, 72–73, 79.
  2. Woodworth 1903, p. 140.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Bliss & Binder 1908, p. 205.
  4. 1 2 3 Woodworth 1903, p. 145.
  5. Woodworth 1903, pp. 140–141.
  6. Woodworth 1903, p. 136.
  7. Holland, Scott (1904). The Ground of Our Appeal. Oxford: Christian Social Union. Quoted in Bliss & Binder 1908, p. 205.
  8. For an article about the Society see A. C. Downer, “The Church and the Navvies” online at
  9. ”ICF- history” online at


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